The Science of Sleep

The Science of Sleep (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Michel Gondry
viewed: 03/24/07

Whimsy and fantasy and, for some reason, frivolousness are all on high display in director Michel Gondry’s latest film.  I remember seeing the trailers, and even though I tend to like fantasy and Gael García Bernal, who plays the hapless fantasizer/artist stuck in a dead-end paste-up job in Paris.  When he falls for his neighbor, another artist open to fantasy, things get all strange and “magical”.

It’s pretty annoying.

It’s all too “magical” without any genuine magic.  Gondry’s track record is mixed and not too extensive so I don’t know what to make of him completely.  I thought that Human Nature, even working with a Charlie Kaufman script, was painfully flat.  For some reason, though, I did like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), though in some ways that had more going against it since I really do not like Jim Carrey.  It doesn’t really matter.

The most interesting thing for me in this film was its mini-polyglot of French, Spanish, and English.  The film spins through these languages rapidly and frequently, often in the same sentences.  There is something interesting here, but maybe to someone who simply can understand all of those languages, it’s nothing special.

But that is what I would say of this film as a whole.  Too much belief in the magic of fantasy.

300

 

300 (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Zack Snyder
viewed: 03/17/07 at Regal Union Square Stadium 14, New York, NY

This is the first movie that I ever saw in New York.  Is that an interesting fact?

Visually, 300, is an aesthetic blast.  Shot on green and blue screen, with a nearly complete digital landscape, the film follows an approach taken to a further extreme in Sin City (2005), which was also a film adapted from a Frank Miller comic book.  It’s violent and gory, but stylized both in its digital quality and in its attempts to mimic Miller’s drawing style.  For instance, a guy jumps up and stabs another “guy” in the eye.  It moves really quick and then slows down for the impact.  It’s kooky.

While I am sure that there would be those to dispute my appreciation for some of the visual aesthetics, I think that the film had a pretty hot trailer, flashing through the visuals and quoting out the powerfully punchy catchphrases, spewed with great panache by Gerard Butler, “This is Sparta!”

While all this is well and good, and entertaining to boot, the film is also intensely disturbing in its broad and deep racism.  The story is based in history, the 300 Spartans who fought a massive Persian army, the battle of Thermopylae.  But it’s impossible to hide from the modern wars and contrast between the European, tough but honorable Spartans and the Persians who are literally portrayed as deviant monsters.  They are not even people with faces.  Behind a mask, we find that the Persians look like lost orcs from The Lord of the Rings series of films.  They also have a be-fanged giant and some big fat guy with big, rough blades for arms.  And then their freakshow sexuality and suggested perversion.

Hey, the Spartans kick out their ugly mutants.

The film is about the glory of dying in battle, of honor for ones country, for killing and brotherhood, and good old heterosexuality (as some aside about Athenians being homosexuals).  It’s pumped up and I know that there are a lot of people out there who are getting big hard-ons over the violence and the tone and the call to battle.  This film is like a recruiting film for the military, and I’m sure it will be like that.  So many aspects of the film are just downright right-wing or racist or what-have-you that I don’t know that I have seen something so morally repugnant since the last time I saw Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs.  Or something.

It’s pretty fucking nuts.  Miller’s take on history, though clearly modified, is only metaphorical in a separate sense.  The film is about actual history, about peoples of different regions and cultures, and while there is a villain inside of Sparta, he is a politician and not a glorious warrior.  You cannot take this out of its literal context, though I have heard that some people have tried, suggesting that the small against the huge would potentially make the Persians the modern day Americans or something like that.  I highly doubt it.  Miller was writing a comic book about the Iraq War and Osama bin Laden that was right out of WWII-era propaganda.

Whatever one thinks of all of this, it was interesting.  There is a lot going on and a lot to analyze.  Like why don’t Spartans have body hair?  Why do they all have six-pack abs and sheen with sweat like glycerine.  This is homoerotic pornography for war hawks.  This is 300.

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill
viewed: 03/07/07

I’d never seen any of Nick Broomfield’s documentaries, though I’d been interested for a while.  His films usually end up being controvertial for some reason or another.  For instance, his Kurt & Courtney (1998), his documentary about Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain’s death, implicated Courtney Love in some murder speculation.  I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on it.

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer is Broomfield’s second film on the subject of Aileen Wuornos, the woman who became dubbed “the first female serial killer”, when she was caught for the murders of 7 men in Florida.  Again, I haven’t seen Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992), though it is excerpted in this film in several parts.  Broomfield feels very much for Wuornos, who led an absolutely horrid life, abandoned by her mother at 6 months, having suffered from all kinds of child abuse, becoming a prostitute before she was a teenager, kicked out of her house she lived in the woods in Michigan for a couple of years, turning tricks and all this from the age of 13.  Broomfield is convinced by her early testimony that her initial murder was one of self-defense, killing a man who was a convicted sexual predator when he was abusing her.

But the film takes place in the last couple years of Aileen’s life on death row in Florida (very close to where I lived).  Broomfield narrates the film and plays a significant role in the film.  He is very much inserting himself into the film, saddened that Wuornos’ change in attitude, she stops claiming self-defense, and shows more and more signs of schizophrenic mentality, talking about how the prison is transmitting sound waves and trying to harm her brain.  The arguments that Broomfield makes, that she was a damaged person, who started her crimes in self-defense, that she had horrible legal representation, that the case became a political tool for Jeb Bush’s re-election campaign, that people tried to sell and exploit her life.

It’s quite compelling and goddam sad.

Broomfield is a bit suspect only in his strangely egoistic lead in the narrative.  Maybe this is unique because of his relationship with the subject from the first film and over time.  I don’t know.  He also tapes her when she doesn’t think he’s taping her admitting that she was actually killing in self-defense and that she wants to die and doesn’t want to be delayed on the way to the lethal injection.

One of the saddest things to me was the brightness and immediate quality of her smile when she sees Broomfield for the first time in while.  It’s a genuine happiness and friendliness that she had despite everything else.  It’s really, really quite a sad story.  I really don’t know if I want to see the Hollywood adaptation of this story anymore.  Even in an empathetic portrayal, it still seems exploitative and awful.

La Moustache

La Moustache (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Emmanuel Carrère
viewed: 03/04/07

I had read that this film was a sort of interesting psychological thriller and had it as something potentially interesting to watch.  It’s about a guy who decides to shave off his mustache, but after he does it, everyone in his life including his wife and co-workers all deny that he ever had a mustache.  This seems silly, and it is, but it disturbs him and causes him to begin to question reality and whether people are intentionally screwing with him.

The film has a low tone and a slow pace.  Nothing eventful happens exactly.  For instance, when he escapes to Hong Kong, he gets on a ferry, rides the ferry, looks at Hong Kong, gets to the airport, goes through security, then changes his mind and goes back to the ferry, rides the ferry.  He writes a postcard and never sends it.  Eventually throwing it into the water.  It’s subtle, I guess you could say. There is an element of schizophrenia, a low, pervasive, slowly-growing nightmare.

My problem with it is that the ending is also subtle.  So subtle as to leave you not knowing what to make of the story exactly.  That’s not a problem for me, but it lacked anything overly meaningful.  It’s hard to say.  I liked the film largely, some of the shots were quite interesting.  But ultimately, it was not compelling.

The funny part is that I shaved this day for the first time in 2 1/2 weeks, so it made for a good, timely viewing.  Luckily, people mostly noticed.  Except my kids, without much teasing.

Dog Soldiers

Dog Soldiers (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Neil Marshall
viewed: 03/01/07

A few years back, my brother-in-law and my nephew rented this movie and told me about it.  I’d never heard of it at the time.  They had mixed feelings about it.  So, I never really made it any priority to see.  But then I saw writer/director Neil Marshall’s recent horror film, The Descent (2005), which had a reasonable buzz as being pretty scary.  And I really thought it had some quality elements in it, and so I decided to queue this one up.

Set in the Scottish Highlands, a small group of army men get dropped off for a training exercise.  But it turns out that there are big, scary werewolves teeming the area, and they start getting killed with lots of spurting blood.  It’s that kind of movie.

The werewolves themselves make-up, costume, animatronic things, that are first shown primarily in shadow.  There is a quality to non-CGI FX but sometimes they can look a little crappy too.  I shouldn’t complain.  It wasn’t a real problem.  It was part of the film’s charm.

What Marshall seems to do best is write and direct his cast.  Unfortunately, he also edits the movie, which has a fucked up pacing, especially in early scenes.  Editing is not meant to draw your attention most of the time, so if you notice it, there’s a good chance it’s not working well.  He also occasionally over-uses camera movement in settings that really don’t call for it.  This annoyed me a lot in the first part of the film.

But the thing is, it’s pretty good.  Most of the actors are good and while there are some hilariously ridiculous plot points, the whole thing works well.  It’s not brilliant, but it’s entertaining, and it’s promising.  Hopefully, Marshall will continue to develop as a writer/director.  I will certainly keep an eye out for his next film.